As well as being a seasoned LEJOG cyclist, Phil Cox is committed to raise funds for www.criduchat.org.uk by donating all the profit from his LEJOG adventure book sales to the charity, so as well as being a superb book providing plenty of insights, please consider buying a copy if you can.
I caught up with Phil on how his LEJOG advanture went and any advice and tips he has for would be cyclists – he offers some really insightful tips on a handy LEJOG training guide, thoughts on the best route to take across the UK and some useful things to include in your packing..enjoy!
What was your first bike and how old were you?
I’d like to say a Raleigh Chopper but I would be lying! Most of my childhood was spent on second hand bikes from the local bike shop. My dad would take me and the bike back once a year for a service, I’d get told off by the mechanic because I had obviously been pulling skids or bumping up curbs and promise not to do it again. I got my first proper ‘racer’ just in time for cycling to secondary school, it was a Dawes something, I can’t remember the model.
How did you get into cycling?
I am fascinated by endurance challenges and liked bikes from an early age so riding a long way on my own has always appealed to me. Until 2010, I never really did any cycling of note and didn’t own a decent bike. In 2010 I suffered a DVT in my right leg and had a serious rethink about my fitness and weight, both were not good. I started riding short distances such as 3 mile routes but eventually got fitter with the help of a gym and bought a decent mountain bike for the 14 mile commute to work.
Since then I have enjoyed a couple of tours and many cycling events (known as sportives). I train specifically as a cyclist, this has improved my health no end.
When did you complete LEJOG?
Tuesday, 22nd May 2012, 2:15pm, it was sunny and hot!
How much training did you do for LEJOG?
Since 2010, I had attained a reasonable amount of general fitness and the commutes had provided plenty of time on the bike. Training had become a habit so starting a programme to condition myself for longer rides wasn’t too much of an issue.
I decided to ride long once a week after the New Year period of 2012, this essentially gave me 16 plus decent rides of between 40 and 80 miles. On two occasions during April I rode two days back to back covering 170 miles. Strength and fitness weren’t the issue as I had been training regularly since 2010, I wanted find out how my body would feel at various stages of the ride and how it would recover especially on the back to back days. I also wanted to work out a pacing strategy to avoid making life miserable for myself during the trip.
I learned how much and how often to eat/drink as I rode, becoming even slightly dehydrated can cause unpleasant headaches. Apparently unguarded nipples start to bleed and become very painful (believe me!) especially if your shirt gets wet, the solution for LEJOG came in the form of Compeed blister plasters! I became adept at the use of Chamois cream to help with saddle discomfort and learned how to move my hands around the bars to avoid them becoming numb. There were many different things which all helped with comfort during the ride, I’m glad I put the miles in!
The final two rides were a full dress rehearsal; all of my kit was packed into a triple pannier at the rear and a bar bag on the front, this tipped the scales at 20kg in total. These last few rides went well and I felt ready to go.
Any recommendations for LEJOG training for the novice cyclist?
If you are starting out, don’t complicate things. Cycling, like anything, can be taken to the nth degree in terms of equipment, knowledge and fitness; don’t get put off by this. Just try riding your bike for as long as is comfortable for the first few rides, don’t set too many goals. The point of these rides is to condition your body gently and avoid any injuries.
Being comfortable is key to enjoyment; a pair of cycling shorts to avoid saddle soreness and a pair of cycling gloves to cushion your hands on the handle bars is a must. Other than this, a rain jacket and breathable t shirt will help enormously. Avoid cotton as it will chafe, a gym-type t shirt which wicks moisture away from your skin is a good option if you don’t want to buy a cycling jersey.
You will become fitter and want to ride further. If you have something like LEJOG as an overall goal, this will motivate you too. Your knowledge of cycling will naturally improve as you seek information from the internet or cycling magazines, especially around kit choices. If you know someone who cycles, ask them for advice and the benefit of their experiences, they will love to talk about it!
Try a couple of short rides a week and then save the long, slower ride for the weekend; the short rides are a good opportunity to push yourself a bit with a view to increasing fitness. I haven’t suggested any mileage because everyone is different, what is long to one person is quick hour to someone else. Always be guided by how you feel.
The long ride is a chance to practice what you will actually be doing when you undertake LEJOG; take regular breaks to eat/drink and stretch the major leg muscle groups (quads, hamstrings and calves). Investing in a bike computer will enable you to assess your pace in order to cruise comfortably and manage your energy reserves. The aim is to finish your long ride feeling in reasonable shape i.e. not feeling utterly exhausted!
Above all, enjoy the time out on your bike, ride with friends if you can, you’ll never look back!
What was your chosen LEJOG route?
Time was an issue for me; I didn’t want to take more than two weeks off work so I had to fit the ride into 12 days. My experience of touring was limited to a maximum of 3 days prior to LEJOG so I had no idea how I would be feeling, say, on day 9, with this in mind I wanted to keep the daily mileage achievable. It would have been great to do a circuitous route on B roads but if I was going to meet the criteria above, it had to be a main road route.
Cycling on dual carriageways is unpleasant at times, I’d much rather be out in the countryside. However, there were plenty of remote roads that were a delight to ride along, especially in Cumbria and the Highlands.
The basic route was A30 out of Cornwall and Devon, A38 too Bristol, up the Wye Valley, through the Lakes and up to Carlisle then Gretna Green. I passed Glasgow to the east, up through Stirling, Crieff and Alberfeldy to the A9, follow the A9 through Inverness to the A99, arrive JOG!
Route planning takes up a lot of time, I spent hours looking at road atlas’ and the Map My Ride application. I have a waking nightmare around needing to ride a lot further than I thought because I somehow miscalculated the mileage. The point of putting this work in is to avoid issues during the ride, it’s time well spent.
You can find the entire route on my website here.
Any advice for booking campsites/B & B’s/YHA’s?
If you can, book well in advance. I started booking in the October for the following May and I found a couple of places already full, this is especially true of small B & B’s. Given that you are riding with your gear, you probably have a small tent or bivvy bag, make sure the camp site knows this and charge for an appropriate pitch. Some campsites want £15 per night, being the frugal type I dislike this given the size of my one-man tent!
The other thing to consider is food, in fact, everything you do will revolve around food, you can’t eat enough! Google maps are very helpful, zooming in to the area where you plan to camp will give you an idea of what is about. The last thing I want to do is cycle another 5 miles to the pub after I have just cycled 100 miles during the day. If in any doubt, call the campsite, most are happy to chat and provide information about their locality.
If you are riding for a cause, play the charity card shamelessly, you never what may come of it. Most people are amazed to hear of your plans and want to help; this can be in the form of a donation, free food or accommodation. I experienced many acts of kindness on my trip; it added another dimension to the ride.
Youth Hostels are great, I especially enjoyed the last evening on the road at Helmsdale Youth Hostel. Good, simple accommodation with friendly staff, Helmsdale couldn’t have been more welcoming which provided a chance to reflect on the last 11 days of cycling.
Most Scenic part of LEJOG for you?
It’s hard to beat the Highlands of Scotland, the landscapes are just huge and there is a definite solitary feeling associated with some of the smaller roads. The terrain can be challenging and the weather can always turn against you but regardless of this, it’s an awesome place to be. If you had to define the ‘essence of outdoors ‘, the Highlands would be it.
If I had to nail it down to one particular stretch, I would say that minor roads from Aberfeldy, through the Tay Forest Park to the A9 was my favourite part. See the route for Day 9 here. Apart from Shap Fell in Cumbria and the far north east Scottish coast, this was the remotest part of the ride.
Any recommendations on what to pack and take with you for LEJOG?
This is one of those questions where the answer is, ‘how long have you got?’ I have put up a list of all my gear and its weight on my website here. Each and every item earned its place on the check list because it had a specific function to get me out of trouble or add to my comfort; ideally, items should have multiple uses cutting down on weight and space.
It goes without saying that you need to consider the type of mechanical problems you might encounter and pack the appropriate tools and spares. I am in the process of writing a guide to long distance cycling where this topic will be covered in detail.
As a slightly left field answer to this question, perhaps I can list some of the stuff that was most important to me but not necessarily vital to the success of the trip:
Map folder: OK, it kept each days map dry (very important!) and ready for use but it also contained my ‘morale kit’, pictures of my wife and kids plus a picture of the John O’Groats sign post. I even had a good luck note from the family. More than once I broke this out when I was feeling cold and knackered in my tent.
Mobile Phone: Yes, great for emergencies but it also provided me with a way to post to Facebook, communicate with my family and friends and raise the profile of of the charity; the more I found out about donations, the more positive I felt on the ride. The encouragement you get from people can’t be under estimated.
Winter Gloves: I can’t bear cold hands either riding or in the tent-even in the summer!
Trangia burner and cook set plus titanium (yes, titanium!) cutlery: It only weights 360 grams but cooks breakfast! The cook set is my favourite piece of kit, it’s a pleasure to use and raises your spirits on cold days – never turn down a brew!
Checklists: I can’t remember my name sometimes let alone what I need to do in 10 days’ time, I compiled a comprehensive, NASA-style check list to make sure I didn’t miss things. I like to put ticks against ‘to do’ items; pedantic is my middle name, my brain is wired that way.
If you would like to find out more about what it’s like to ride LEJOG, I have a book available that describes the planning and practical side of riding 1,000 miles plus looks at the emotional highs and lows. A good resource for aspiring LEJOGers but it’s not only for cyclists.
The sponsorship and fundraising events to date have almost toped the £7,000 mark. The book is available as a paperback from my website here and as a Kindle book here, please check out some of the reviews on Amazon.
I would like to thank you for taking the time to read my LEJOG Blog. I hope you’ve found it interesting and feel free to post your thoughts and comments. Once again, thank you for visiting Simon’s LEJOG blog. If you’ve completed the famous end to end cycle and would like to be featured, do get in touch!